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No job too small for 'Helping Hands'

Cash Gervais, 3 1/2, and his grandma Pam Ranua carefully screwed a bolt into Gervais's new birdhouse, as Helping Hands volunteer Kurt Anderson provided assistance. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

Though many businesses subscribe to the motto that there’s “no job too large” for them to undertake, there is one local group of volunteers that takes pride in the fact that there’s no job too small for them to tackle.

Since the early 2000s, the Helping Hands Ministry at Ecumen-Detroit Lakes has been doing minor home repairs for the community’s elderly and disabled, as well as taking on various small construction projects for local nonprofits — such as making birdhouse and toolbox kits for the annual Spring Fest celebration, which is the culmination of Week of the Young Child festivities in Detroit Lakes.

This past Friday, a couple hundred young children and family members gathered at the Washington Square Mall to enjoy pizza and ice cream (courtesy of Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen), visit with Clifford the Big Red Dog and local law enforcement officers, and build a wooden birdhouse or toolbox to take home with them.

“Their (Helping Hands’) contribution has always been great, and a huge draw for the families that come to Spring Fest,” said Kari Stattelman, a member of the KARE (Kids Are the Responsibility of Everyone) Council, which hosted this year’s Spring Fest celebration at the mall.

“They are a great community resource,” Stattelman said of Helping Hands organization

Every week, the Helping Hands volunteers gather for breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Detroit Lakes to go over plans for that week’s projects, as well as to enjoy a good meal and fellowship.

“Don Busker got the program going,” said Helping Hands volunteer Don Berg. “He thought there should be some type of volunteer organization to help seniors in their homes, with projects as simple as changing a light bulb.”

In fact, it was a visit to his mother’s home in Wadena that prompted Busker to come up with the idea — after he noted that there had been a light bulb out for several days in the stairway leading to her basement, prompting her to use a flashlight when she needed to go downstairs.

“We met in the dining hall at Emmanuel (nursing home) for about a year,” said volunteer Doug Coen.

In fact, Emmanuel became the organization’s sponsor, which they required due to liability concerns.

“Ann Shane (who was the volunteer program’s coordinator during its early years) recruited me, ‘Because,’ she said, ‘we need someone with a little common sense’,” joked Berg.

Though not incorporated as a 501(c)3, “We do have bylaws,” said Coen.

One of them, he said, is “We can’t talk about religion or politics.”

While anyone can join, all Helping Hands volunteers must undergo a thorough background check, added Helping Hands volunteer Dean Sanders.

“We have to be cleared to go into people’s homes,” explained Berg.

Also, he added, “We don’t go into people’s homes unless there’s at least two of us.”

The scope of the projects undertaken by Helping Hands is usually pretty narrow, said the group’s new coordinator, Sandy Lia, who took on the job this past November.

“They will help out nonprofits and seniors, but they did not want to take businesses away from established businesses in the community, like plumbers, electricians, dry wall contractors and so forth,” Lia added.

“They do smaller odd jobs, that you might hire a handyman for,” she explained.

If the person who requests Helping Hands’ assistance can’t afford to pay for the materials themselves, “We might be able to get grant funding to help,” said Sanders.

“And we do get gifts from donors,” Berg added.

The group has also worked on projects for the Lakes Crisis & Resource Center and Mahube-Otwa in Detroit Lakes, REACH in Hawley and others.

“Emmanuel asked them to build some art easels (for its annual art show), and they made us some beautiful easels out of birch bark,” said Lia, who is also the fund development coordinator for Ecumen-Detroit Lakes (which includes the nursing home as part of its campus).

“They’ve also built ramps for people in wheelchairs,” she added.

There are no age requirements or other limitations for volunteering with the group, she added, noting, “Anyone can join Helping Hands.”

“We’ve got people here from all walks of life,” said Berg, adding that the group is strictly nondenominational.

“We do get a lot of referrals from churches, from social services or nursing homes,” Coen added, “or sometimes, just from individuals that know us.”

When the community of Roseau was devastated by spring flooding a few years ago, a group of Helping Hands volunteers traveled to the community to help clean out basements and remove debris.

Sometimes, they go into homes that are in the process of being remodeled and collect old light fixtures, doors, appliances and furniture, which they then donate back to Habitat for Humanity or a similar organization, for use in future projects or to sell as a fundraiser.

For more information about Helping Hands, to volunteer with the group, request help on a project, or to make a donation, please contact Sandy Lia at Ecumen-Detroit Lakes, 218-847-4486 or 218-844-8340.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454